Academic journal article Parergon

Hamlet and the French Connection: The Relationship of Q1 and Q2 Hamlet and the Evidence of Belleforest's Histoires Tragiques

Academic journal article Parergon

Hamlet and the French Connection: The Relationship of Q1 and Q2 Hamlet and the Evidence of Belleforest's Histoires Tragiques

Article excerpt

I. Introduction and Background

Any study of the first and second quartos of Hamlet (Q1 and Q2) reveals rapidly that the former is noticeably shorter, at about 55 per cent of the length of Q2, and that only about 20 per cent of Q1's lines match Q2's. Despite that, they are clearly closely related. Both quartos derive ultimately from the French source, the third story in Volume v of Francois de Belleforest's Histoires Tragiques, first privileged (licensed for publication) in 1570, with editions in 1576, 1581, 1582, 1583, and 1601. (1) The following comparison between the French source and the two quartos will demonstrate the borrowings shared by the first two quartos, a small number of borrowings exclusive to each, and, most significantly, evidence suggesting a progression from the source through Q1, published in 1603, to Q2, published in 1604-05. (2)

The interest in the comparison lies in what it may contribute to our understanding of the relationship between the quartos, and consequently it is useful to review briefly the theories about that relationship. After the rediscovery of Q1 in 1823, the early view was that Q1 is Shakespeare's first draft or first thoughts, and that Q2 represents his revised version. This view was proposed by, for example, Charles Knight in the mid-nineteenth century and Steven Urkowitz in the late twentieth century. (3) Tycho Mommsen and W. H. Widgery, in 1857 and 1880, were the nineteenth-century initiators of a second theory: memorial reconstruction. (4) This theory contends that Q2 represents Shakespeare's first version of the play, which was later recreated from memory by actors ('Marcellus' or 'Voltemand', and perhaps 'Lucianus') who had acted in the play and remembered enough of it to compile Q1. The theory was developed fully by George Duthie in his 'Bad' Quarto of Hamlet, published in 1941. (5) A third theory is that Q1 represents an abridgement of Q2, necessary because of the unplayable length of Q2. Albert Weiner, for example, argued this in his 1962 edition of Q1 Hamlet. (6)

Memorial reconstruction is the view most widely believed and disseminated, through introductions to texts of Hamlet, and repeated by, for example, Edmund Chambers, Geoffrey Bullough, and Stanley Wells and Gary Taylor. (7) Indeed, Paul Werstine notes that 'by the 1950s the idea that all imperfect texts were transmitted into print by reporters had ... a grip on textual criticism'. (8) Werstine challenges this idea, arguing that memorial reconstruction is a 'hypothetical construct' that has not yet been 'empirically validated with reference to any extant Shakespearean quarto'. (9) Instead he seeks to widen discussion beyond the 'binarism' (10) of 'good' and 'bad' quartos, to a situation where the possibility of multiple variants of the plays may co-exist. (11) Another complication with memorial reconstruction arises, for instance, with Paul Menzer's study of the cues, the two or three words of the preceding speech which 'cue' in the actor's own speech, in the two Hamlets. Menzer has found that the cues for Corambis/Polonius remain noticeably stable between the two texts, (12) and reasonably comments that 'some plausible mechanism is needed ... to account for the cue fidelity of Corambis/Polonius across the three texts of Hamlet'. (13)

Even a brief resume shows that there are significant variations in the theories as well as continuing debate about them. They result in two slightly different chronologies. While Les Histoires Tragiques remains the source and the first text of the three under examination, Q2 would be the first of the two Hamlet quartos if Q1 is a memorial reconstruction or abridgement, but Q1 would be the anterior text if it is Shakespeare's first draft and Q2 a revised version.

This account is of course a simplification of a complicated subject. Memorial reconstruction in particular might be represented in a more complex way, by introducing the putative Ur-Hamlet of c. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.